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Romney Stops Pulling Punches

“That’s why they call it a battleground; because you have to fight like hell to make it out alive.”

-- An advisor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign to Power Play on new polls showing President Obama expanding his lead in key swing state Ohio.

Whatever Democratic skew may exist in the public polling on the presidential race, there’s no question about the current trajectory of the 2012 campaign: Republican Mitt Romney, who has steadily trailed by a small margin, is losing ground.

If he means to win Romney will have to do what successful Republican candidates have had to do for 40 years, tune out the background noise of the press and stay relentlessly on message, a message that seems to be fairly simple: We can’t afford the government Barack Obama has created and time is running out to stop it.

Conservatives and the Romney campaign may say that the swing state polls which shows a widening lead for Obama are out of whack, but the trend is unmistakable. A month ago in must-win Ohio, Romney trailed in the Quinnipiac University poll commissioned by the New York Times and CBS News by 6 points. It’s now 10 points.

Polls may not be predictive, but even a poll that doesn’t reflect the actual condition of the electorate can still show you the trend line. And right now, there aren’t any indications that Romney is closing the gap. Romney may be closer than a double-digit deficit, but he’s sure not where he needs to be.

Romney’s attack slogan on President Obama has been “Obama isn’t working,” but it’s clear that Romney’s strategy hasn’t been working.

That slogan itself is a great encapsulation of where Romney’s campaign has been in the five months since he clinched the Republican nomination. “Obama isn’t working” is a nod to the Margaret Thatcher’s successful 1979 campaign slogan “Labour isn’t working.” Very subtle, sophisticated and droll, no doubt, but seeing as it lacks the pun and doesn’t really seem to mean anything, it hasn’t exactly been a barnburner among heartland voters.

Romney has been a supremely cautious candidate when it comes to attacking Obama. Fearful that he will be called racist, mean or angry, Romney has pulled a lot of punches when it comes to the commander in chief.

At times, Romney has sounded like an insurance salesman respectfully submitting that his package of home, life and auto insurance is actually better than the coverage offered by a customer’s current carrier -- if you don’t mind him saying so, ma’am.

Part of this is rooted in a desire not to offend voters who took a chance on Obama in 2008 and still like him, but just believe that he hasn’t done a very good job. The message to these largely female voters has been that it’s okay to break up with Obama because your new suitor is a very nice and understanding guy. He doesn’t blame you a bit.

But another part is that Romney clearly fears what would happen if he, a decidedly white, awkward retail politician, and very wealthy man born to privilege, is out swinging brickbats at the first black president.

It ought to be some comfort to Romney that even with the delicacy of his campaign to this point, he has still been accused of race baiting, cruelty and dishonesty. The comfort should come from the fact that whatever he does, he will be accused of those things by many in the establishment press. So why not swing harder if you’re going to pay the same price?

Obama, who admitted to CBS News last week that his own ads have been misleading, has been spending millions every month since May in all of the swing states on an ad campaign that has been mostly a series of personal attacks on Romney’s character.

The Romney campaign has demanded accountability for the president and found puzzlement from reporters who can’t believe the Republican nominee doesn’t understand the game by now: Enough about your claim that you are not actually a vampire, governor, are your welfare ads really a dog whistle for racists? And a follow up, governor, Harry Reid says he has a friend who says you really are a vampire and drink the blood of middle class children exclusively. Care to comment?

While Obama has been raining down the most negative, most personal presidential re-election campaign in history all over Romney’s head, Romney has been telling voters that Obama is a nice guy who just isn’t quite up to the job. What’s so nice about a guy who dumps $100 million in attack ads that he himself says aren’t exactly true?

In fact, Romney’s “nice guy” theme has given Obama additional cover for running a campaign of such scorching negativity. And after all these months of attacks, it’s hardly a surprise that Ohio voters aren’t so sure they want to take a chance on this challenger, whatever they may think of the job the incumbent is doing.

While Republicans may console themselves by saying that the polls aren’t really as bad as they seem, Romney doesn’t seem to be looking for consolation. He looks like he’s finally had enough.

When Romney hit the ground in Ohio on Tuesday, he was swinging hard.

On Obama’s equivocations about the ongoing Muslim uprising and the attack in Libya, Romney told FOX News colleague Carl Cameron that the president was trying to hide the truth from voters. Is Romney really accusing the administration of a cover up? Yep, said running mate Paul Ryan. The sputtering began at once that Romney was politicizing foreign policy as if Democrats didn’t win in 2006 and 2008 by doing exactly that.

And on Obama’s vision of the role of government in American life: “This is a vision of government that’s entirely foreign to anything this nation has ever known.” The dog-whistle detectors must have practically exploded at that one. If folks who thought talking about Obama’s golf game was an allusion to Tiger Wood’s satyriasis, imagine what happened when Romney used the word “foreign.”

But maybe Romney, with less than six weeks to go until Election Day, is ready to start communicating some urgency and something about the direness of what he says is the nation’s condition. Maybe he is also ready to start ignoring a political press that is likely to find him guilty, whatever the charge.

If he means to win Romney will have to do what successful Republican candidates have had to do for 40 years, tune out the background noise of the press and stay relentlessly on message, a message that seems to be fairly simple: We can’t afford the government Barack Obama has created and time is running out to stop it.

If Romney is ever going to find his inner John Sununu, now’s the time.


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.